This story was co-published with Planet Detroit.
A little more than three months after the Michigan Public Service Commission turned down most of DTE Energy’s last electric rate increase request, the company is back before regulators with a new ask. This time, DTE is seeking almost twice as much as it did last year — $622 million more in annual revenue from electric customers.
The ask is rankling utility customers after two winter storms caused widespread outages that affected at least 600,000 customers. Many customers lost power for days. Michigan had more outages than other Midwest states also hit by those storms and, according to data compiled last year, has the second-highest total of weather-related outages in the country after Texas.
If approved, the increase would add about $12.50 to an average residential customer’s monthly bill. DTE is also asking for rate increases on commercial and industrial customers, but at lower amounts than the proposed increase on residential customers. The company says the increase is necessary to increase reliability and speed the move to cleaner energy.
“DTE’s Electric Company did not request a base rate increase during the COVID pandemic, keeping in mind affordability for customers during uncertain times. Over the same period, the company invested more than $8 billion into the system that generates and transmits electricity to 2.3 million households and businesses,” said Chris Lamphear, a DTE spokesperson, over email. “An increase in the average customer bill of $8 or $9 would support more than $9 billion in investments in Michigan to build a stronger grid and deliver cleaner energy.” he continued.
Advocates disagree that the increase is necessary.
“It was shocking to see that number,” said Amy Bandyk, director of the Citizens Utility Board of Michigan, which advocates for residential ratepayers. “They are asking for everything they didn’t get in the last rate case plus more,” she said of DTE.
By law, utilities in Michigan can file for a rate increase every 12 months. The MPSC must make a decision in a rate case within 10 months of it being filed. The testimony and exhibits filed by DTE alone already exceed 5,000 pages.
Regulators will be focused on whether or not the rate increase DTE is asking for is “reasonable and prudent,” a standard the state legislature has directed the MPSC to use. Right now, the law does not allow the MPSC to take affordability into account when setting rates, MPSC chairman Dan Scripps told Outlier Media last year.
“I think customers are so used to rate increase after rate increase,” said Bandyk, “But it doesn’t have to be this way.”
Groups who believe they will be impacted by the rate increase can intervene in the case and present testimony and exhibits. The groups involved in this rate case include CUB, environmental groups and environmental justice advocates, a utility workers union, and the Attorney General, among others.
People who want to submit a public comment to be considered in the rate case can submit them to the MPSC electronically (there is an orange, “submit comment” button toward the top right-hand side of the rate case page), email, write a letter, or call (517) 284-8090.
Bandyk says she would also like to see the MPSC convene a public hearing. The commission held its first-ever public hearing for a rate case last year in Detroit after being prompted by activists. “There are no plans for a public hearing on the rate case at this time,” MSPC spokesperson Matt Helms told Outlier Media over email.
A decision in the rate case is expected by December. The first pre-hearing is scheduled for tomorrow. Read notes from the hearing on detroit.documenters.org.
Nina Ignaczak contributed reporting to this piece. Nina is the founder and editor in chief of Planet Detroit.